Christian Pulisic and Zack Steffen Battle to Make U.S. Soccer History in the 2021 UEFA Champions League Final

On Saturday, May 29, Manchester City and Chelsea, both from the English Premier League, will face off in the most prestigious tournament in all of professional soccer: the UEFA Champions League.

A Champions League final is always notable, but the 2021 version will be historic for American soccer in a way it has never been before.

The match will be the first Champions League final to guarantee that an American will hoist the trophy. This is because two U.S. Men’s National Team members, Christian Pulisic (Chelsea) and Zack Steffen (Manchester City) will square off against each other.

What is the UEFA Champions League?

Zack Steffen and Christian Pulisic | Photo by Visionhaus

The UEFA Champions League is the spawn of the European Cup that started in 1956, according to PremierLeague.com. This tournament brought together 16 of the best clubs from the top leagues in Europe to play in a tournament for soccer supremacy.

The tournament has since expanded to include 72 teams from around the continent. It also changed its name to the UEFA Champions League in 1992.  

The clubs that have won the tournament most include some of the world’s biggest and most famous soccer teams. Real Madrid and Barcelona (Spain), Liverpool and Manchester United (England), Inter Milan and Juventus (Italy), and Bayern Munich (Germany) have all won multiple times.  

This year’s culminating match between Man City and Chelsea is the third all-England final in Champions League history. In 2008, Man United defeated Chelsea, and in 2019 Liverpool beat Tottenham Hotspur.

A win would give Chelsea their second Champions League trophy. The London-based side beat Bayern Munich on penalty kicks to take home the title in 2012. Man City has never won the sought-after cup.

Has an American ever won the Champions League?

In the long history of the UEFA Champions League, Americans have never featured on both sides of the match, and only one U.S.-born player has ever won the sought-after trophy.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Jovan Kirovski grew up in Escondido, CA, where his parents immigrated from Macedonia. Kirovski became a U.S. soccer trailblazer starting as a teenager.

At 16, he became the first American ever signed by the international powerhouse club, Manchester United. At 19, he transferred out of the English Premier League to the German Bundesliga club, Borussia Dortmund. In Kirovski’s first season with his new club, he became the first American to reach a Champions League final.

The history-making for the 6’1″ forward didn’t stop there. He became the first American to score in the Champions League. Later that season, when Dortmund defeated Italian giants Juventus in the final, Kirovski became the first and only American to win a Champions League medal.  

Kirovski would go on to play for several other clubs around Europe. In 2004, he returned to his home country to play in the MLS. Today, he serves as Technical Director for the Las Angeles Galaxy.

Christian Pulisic or Zack Steffen will become the second American ever to win the UEFA Champions League trophy

When the dust settles at Estadio do Dragao in Porto, Portugal, on Saturday, Kirovski will no longer be the only American to win the Champions League title. The honor of being the second American to do so will fall to Pulisic, the 22-year-old Chelsea winger from Hershey, PA, or Steffen, Manchester City’s 26-year old backup goalkeeper who hails from Coatesville, PA. 

Pulisic has played in nine of Chelsea’s 12 Champions League matches in 2021 and started four of them. The young forward did not start Chelsea’s last Champions League match against Real Madrid but did come in as a substitute in the 67th minute. He is in contention to start the final but, even if he doesn’t, he will likely be a second-half substitute. 

Steffen has already made U.S. soccer history this year, becoming the first American to win the Premier League title. As a backup goalkeeper, he will likely not play in the final unless Man City’s starter, Ederson, goes down with an injury. Steffen has only played in one Champions League match this season, City’s last Group Stage match against the French side, Marseilles. 

No matter which Pennsylvanian takes home a medal from Portugal, U.S. soccer fans should be proud. The fact that two Americans are playing on soccer’s biggest stage is an enormous accomplishment. It is also a good sign for the overall progress of the sport in this country.

For his part, Kirovski is happy too. He looks forward to having American company in the Champions League winners club. And, as he told the LA Times, “I’ll always be the first, right? Always be the first to win it and always be the first to score. So they can’t take that away from me.”

All stats courtesy of FBref.com

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